Torn Away Review

Torn Away is a video game from another era. Not in terms of its World War 2 setting, but rather this game seems purpose-built for the iconic handheld of yesteryear, the Nintendo DS. Ostensibly a 2D Narrative Adventure, Torn Away is packed with 3D analogue-driven mini-games; from opening cupboards to lighting fires and repairing battered boots. Frequently, during such interactions, I felt the nostalgic need for a stylus and touch screen. Problematically, they were nowhere to be found, instead, my trusty gamepad would have to suffice.

This, unfortunately, is the first of many issues that Torn Away suffers from. Controller calibration is supremely lacking. Wiggling a thumb stick while your child protagonist seems to drunkenly sway and swing with a hammer is hardly intuitive. Too often these 3D moments feel completely random, your objective is achieved despite your erratic inputs, not because of them. So, get ready to try to open and close drawers multiple times until the game decides you’ve actually done it correctly and everyone can move on with their life.

Visually, Torn Away is something of a mess too. Frame rates are all over the place. This may be a stylistic choice, but if so it is one that’s poorly executed, with animation appearing clunky and leaden throughout. There are all sorts of graphical ticks to contend with too, with items of scenery in the foreground and background regularly replaced with Matrix-like glitches. Then there are the laughable stealth sections that rely entirely on dumb luck to complete, with each failure and restart breaking the atmosphere that the developers have tried so hard to create. Talking of breaking the atmosphere, the dreadful voices overs and awful script translation succeed in that regularly.

And yet, despite all these foibles, there is something about Torn Away that holds your attention. Asya is an endearing lead, and I felt genuine affection towards her and her mission to escape a concentration camp and return to her family. There’s a multitude of affectingly effective emotional beats for the player to encounter, the most poignant and powerful being the quiet moments that see Asya alone, walking across the arctic wastes, ruminating on the past, wearily but determinedly trudging on. The pacing of these narrative sections can be inconsistent, some overstay their welcome, and others – including a memorable encounter with a Russian pilot – are rushed through to their conclusion, but overall Torn Away does a masterful job of pulling the player’s heartstrings until its potent ending. Just be sure to turn the voiceovers off.

Torn Away is a peculiar game. Numerous technical issues do their determined best to spoil an otherwise powerful narrative; one that is elegant in its simplicity. Those haphazard controls, visual limitations, and laughable stealth sections will succeed in turning many players away, but, if you manage to put up with them, you’ll find that Asya’s tale is one to relish.
  • Asya is an engaging character
  • A simple but emotional story, well-told
  • Powerful narrative moments that resonate
  • Ineffective controls
  • Dodgy framerate
  • Visual glitches
  • Terrible voice-over work

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